Prime Minister Netanyahu. Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has ordered its embassies in Russia, Canada and Bulgaria to cancel planned speaking events by an Israeli academic and prominent Iran expert, claiming he criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy on the Iranian nuclear program, officials told me.

Why it matters: For many years, the Israeli Foreign Ministry would send Israeli academics who disagree with the government on speaking tours around the world in order to convey the strength of Israeli democracy. Israeli diplomats view the move against the academic as a sign of retaliation and growing fear of dissent on politically charged issues.

The backdrop: The academic — Raz Zimmt, a former intelligence analyst in the Israeli military and highly respected Iran expert both in Israel and around the world — was invited by the Israeli embassies in Ottawa, Moscow and Sofia (Bulgaria) to give lectures on Iran for journalists, diplomats and opinion-makers. The Foreign Ministry was supposed to pay for his trips abroad.

  • Earlier on Tuesday, the head of the strategic division of the Israeli Foreign Ministry sent a cable to the ambassadors in Russia, Canada and Bulgaria asking them to cancel the invitations they sent to Zimmt due to his positions on Iran.
  • The cable said Zimmt "harshly criticized the government policy on Iran and mainly about the maximum pressure policy we are pushing. Dr. Zimmt’s opinions do not serve our political goals. He is a loud and knowledgeable opposition to our policy. As much as it is possible, we ask that you terminate his arrival."

Zimmt declined to provide comment. In a short tweet, he wrote that he still respects the Foreign Ministry but will continue speaking his mind and expressing his professional opinion.

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